How Localization Addresses the Root Causes of Irregular Migration

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Trump’s solution to soaring immigration rates from Central America revolved around tackling the symptoms rather than the causes of irregular migration from Central America. As a result, building walls and taking tougher border actions were the responses of the day.

In response to Trump’s superficial band aid response to a complicated issue, the concept of “addressing the root causes of irregular migration” gained traction with opponents. This turned into a serious agenda item for the Biden Administration and a multimillion dollar agenda was curated in response. 

What is “Irregular” and “Regular” Migration?

So what is “irregular migration”, how does it differ from “regular” migration?

irregular migration of woman and child
The IOM defines “irregular migration” as “movement that takes place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit and receiving country”

“Regular” Migration is “Migration that occurs in compliance with the laws of the country of origin, transit and destination (IOM)”. Regular migration pathways allow eligible persons to migrate based on conditions and for a duration defined by the concerned country. Examples include obtaining official visa, permit and/or residence permissions and adhering to any terms set by such permissions.

Regarding “Irregular” migration, there is no universally accepted definition. However, the IOM defines it as “movement that takes place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit and receiving country”.  As shown in the graphic below, an irregular migrant may fall within one or more of the following circumstances:

  • He/she may enter the country irregularly (e.g with false documents, without crossing at an official border point)
  • He/she may reside in the country irregularly (e.g in violation of visa/residence terms)
  • He/she may be employed irregularly, (e.g they may have the right to reside but not to be employed)
Irregular Migration explanation

Migrants can go “in and out” of irregularity as laws change. For example, migrants escaping persecution and seeking protection in another country may be counted as irregular migrants when crossing the border, but their status may become regular once they apply for asylum. Furthermore, migrants with regular status may become irregular migrants once their visa or permit expires.

Why should we care about Irregular Migration?

So why should we care about the distinction between regular and irregular migrants?

irregular migrants on train track
Irregular Migration poses multiple challenges to countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as to the individual migrants themselves

Firstly, because of the effects that irregular migration has on multiple actors, countries and systems. Irregular migration poses multiple challenges to countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as to the individual migrants themselves. Due to their movement in the shadows outside of regular bureaucratic processes, irregular migrants can inadvertently strengthen nefarious networks and put themselves in grave danger. 

The lack of official legal tracking and protection makes irregular migrants particularly vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and abuse. The reasoning for irregular migration is usually made with insufficient information or executed without thinking about the consequences. People move out of desperation and often without alternatives, regardless of the barriers they encounter on the way.  

Secondly, we should care about irregular migration because of what it signifies at a human rights, global society level. 

Some argue that a main cause of irregular migration is not the disregard of regulations, but rather the growth of inequality within and between countries and their failure to create adequate structures to cope with the fallout. Irregular migration exists because there are not enough opportunities for safety and prosperity at home and not enough options to remedy this lack of opportunities. 

What are the Root Causes of Irregular Migration in Guatemala?

The root causes of migration for Guatemalans are varied, interconnected, and complex. However, they fall into four categories; Lack of Economic Opportunities, Extortion, Crime and Violence, and Corruption.

Underneath these four drivers are ingrained structural causes that need to be holistically and simultaneously addressed in order to dent migration patterns. 

For this reason, the US Root Causes Strategy is complex. As you can see in the graphic above, there are 13 subcategories that USAID will be investing in in Guatemala. Each area in itself comprises complicated subsystems and actors for instance,  Value Chains, Business Environment, and Community Resilience.

To assist in achieving these commitments, USAID launched Centroamérica Local, a 5-year, $300 million locally-led development initiative. It’s purpose is to “empower local organizations in the Northern Triangle, and to address the drivers of irregular migration to the United States.” Here is where the “Localization” agenda was born and where local nonprofits can play a decisive role.

What is Localization?

irregular migration can be addressed by nonprofits
Locally based organizations need to be more effectively engaged for more sustainable solutions to irregular migration

Localization has many synonyms including “decolonizing foreign assistance”, “community ownership”, and “locally led development”. In short, Localization efforts aim to change the power dynamics in development and humanitarian assistance structures.

Put another way, in order for more sustainable development and a reduction in irregular migration, local partners must play a central role. These community partners must play a key part in identifying sectors, planning programs, implementing projects, and evaluating progress.  

The concept of Localization is not new for USAID. The last three administrations tried to pivot from relying on big contractors however progress was limited.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power admitted in her November 2021 speech that 60% of USAID assistance was awarded to just 25 partners, all of whom were huge International organizations.

How Supporting Local Nonprofits can Address the Root Causes of Migration

In order to remedy the Localization challenges that agencies, foundations and other donors face, Pionero Philanthropy is poised to assist in identifying the organizations who are ready and willing to partner and contribute towards strengthening their communities. 

nonprofit ASSADE
Local nonprofits that improve social infrastructure such as Health nonprofit ASSADE (a Pionero Philanthropy nonprofit member) provide the key in sustainable solutions to irregular migration.

Through collaborating with organizations that are integrated in their neighborhoods, social and economic infrastructures are strengthened. This in turn remedies many irregular migration drivers.

Pionero Philanthropy has the most comprehensive database on the Guatemalan Nonprofit sector. It also has devised an Evaluation system that gives essential insights into Guatemala’s nonprofit environment. These insights signpost funders towards organizations who tackle the plethora of areas that drive irregular migration.

Through more intelligent, intentional, localization efforts that stem irregular migration, Guatemala will further flourish from the inside out.

Contact Pionero Philanthropy to start supporting these crucial localization efforts.